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CD Review

Johann Sebastian Bach

Concertos for One, Two, and Three Violins

  • Concerto in D minor, BWV 1063 1-3
  • Concerto for Violin in A minor, BWV 1041 2
  • Concerto for Violin in E minor, BWV 1042 4
  • Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 3,5
  • Concerto for Three Violins in D Major, BWV 1064R 1,2,4
1 Monica Huggett, violin
2 Carla Moore, violin
3 Jolianne Einem, violin
4 Rob Diggins, violin
5 Adam LaMotte, violin
Portland Baroque Orchestra/Monica Huggett
Portland Baroque Orchestra PB501
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Founded in 1985 by a community of dedicated musicians devoted to the Baroque, the now-professional Portland Baroque Orchestra is directed by acclaimed virtuoso Monica Huggett. Previously, Ton Koopman led the orchestra, and after 30 years the organization is gaining serious recognition as one of the foremost ensembles of its type in North America. Five distinguished and recognizable faces within the period-instrument movement share five evergreen Bach concertos. If not a prime recommendation throughout, the many pleasures within this disc are undeniable.

Monica Huggett last recorded the solo concerti as a primary soloist for a 2006 release; here she acts as the lead on two triple concertos but otherwise chooses to leave the solo duties to her other esteemed colleagues. Everyone involved earns my unqualified enthusiasm for refusing to blast through these pieces as is the current custom. And to a greater effect than Joshua Bell on Sony Classical, these players recognize the charm, grace, and elegance of these works. For these qualities, you used to be forced to turn to old-fashioned readings. Thankfully, recent releases like this one are returning Bach's warmth while still adhering to modern practices.

I could wish for a slightly more extroverted take on the solo concertos, since both are lovely but somewhat subdued. Rob Diggins in particular has a darker tone that compliments the orchestra but takes some of the playfulness out of the music. Speaking of the orchestra, their willingness to slow down a bit and let the music flow really allows them to make beautiful sounds. Even though I'm generally in favor of modern instruments, the Portland players truly shape the music in such a way that the genius of Bach is conveyed on an emotional, as well as technical level. Perhaps some listeners would like a little more brightness, or a little more fire. But aside from that, there is certainly a great deal to admire.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman